[as a failed science-fiction story]
by Will F. Shakespeare

Review Satire by
Donald L. Franson

(Reviews of Unmodern Science Fiction)

Quarto-Foolio: London, 1603

100 pages August 1958

Macbeth as science fiction

This is pure fantasy and should not be given the SF label. Although an attempt is made to explain scientifically how Birnam Wood could come to Dunsinane (soldiers carry boughs), and the psychological effect of predictions of things to come on a weak-minded protagonist rings true, much of it is mere blood and thunder.

The story opens with three aliens on the site of a spaceship landing and takeoff (referred to as a "blasted heath"). These aliens are described as weird, fantastical women "that look not like the inhabitants of the earth". Prediction is their game, and it is a con game. They tell MacBeth, the hero (?) that all kinds of fortune are waiting for him. They say he will be Thane of Glamis (he already is), Thane of Cawdor (he already is that, too, but doesn't know it), and King. These aliens seem to have the inside info on things already accomplished — instead of the power of predicting, they have a spy-ray gimmick of some sort, to listen in on distant conversations. (Mr. S. doesn't explain this — he is no Heinlein, so it is a good thing.)

These predictions are double-talk, of course, but Mr. MacB is impressed. Two thanes make him inthane. His gullibility and megalomania get the best of him. His wife helps, too. (Will doesn't like wives.) There is fast-moving action — prediction of his second thanedom, immediately followed by friends entering and telling him the good news; Lady MacB reads letter from her husband, then MacBeth enters. Shake is a follower of the pulp school.

Shakespeare's Macbeth presents a lot of unnecessary characters, such as messengers, servants, and hautboys. This writer has to have attendants to act as straight men. Unfortunately they are menials and dare not laugh — or they would at the lines propelled at them. Who would ever say to a messenger: "Thou com'st to use thy tongue; thy story quickly"? Sounds like S. has been reading too much H. Rider Haggard.

There is mention of strange natural phenomena, as in Julius Caesar. Night-dark days, runaway horses, etc. Author thinks this pseudo-Fortean stuff "proves" something — that his characters are so important that even nature acts up. This is something out of Weird Tales.

One of the sordid spiels, beginning, "Tomorrow, and tomorrow", etc., is cribbed from all the quotation books Shake could lay his hands on.

MacBeth sees a dagger in the air (only explanation is the heat) and talks to it. Perhaps the dagger is sharpened by this dull monologue — the reader is not.

The best part of the story is the Witches' Rock and Roll, "Double, double, toil and trouble", accompanied by a description of a chemical laboratory befitting the old Clayton Astounding of the early 1930s. Such unlikely chemical ingredients as fillet of a fenny snake and toe of frog make up the Kickapoo Joy Juice that boils in a caldron — this is alchemy, not modern science. MacBeth gets more double-talk Criswellisms worthy of the narrator of Plan 9 from Outer Space, and is so excited he forgets to ask for sleeping pills and spot-remover.

Other gadgetry abounds, but it is only gadgetry, never explained. Vanishing acts, ghosts, ESP, apparitions bobbing up and down like saxophonists in a TV band, sleep-writing, etc.

There is action, more Van Vogt-type complications, and all the predictions turn out to be gyps. In the end, MacDuff has MacBeth's head, and the reader wishes he cold have the author's.

A whodunit is on the obverse, titled Hamlet (not the story of a small town). It's meant to be a psychological thriller, but is much given to long dissertations by the hero which slow up the action. Muddy prose such as "take arms against a sea of troubles" (should be host of troubles) gives evidence of the slip-shod writing. These two volumes are in play form, but are obviously not suitable for summer stock.

This author has improved not at all since his early comedies. At least they, being comedies, were funny. His only memorable character so far is Falstaff, named humorously after a beer.


© 1958 Donald L. Franson

First printed in
Twig, Number 13, December 1958

William Shakespeare's Macbeth
annotated — The Shakespeare Project

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